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AUTISM AWARENESS: HOW THE CHURCH CAN BE PREPARED Making sacred spaces and safe places for families with special needs children.

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Presentation on theme: "AUTISM AWARENESS: HOW THE CHURCH CAN BE PREPARED Making sacred spaces and safe places for families with special needs children."— Presentation transcript:

1 AUTISM AWARENESS: HOW THE CHURCH CAN BE PREPARED Making sacred spaces and safe places for families with special needs children.

2 Melanie Michaela Kelli Chris

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4 Autism is a developmental disorder that appears in the first 3 years of life, and affects the brain's normal development of social and communication skills along with sensory issues. With the May 2013 publication of the DSM-5 diagnostic manual, all autism disorders were merged into one umbrella diagnosis of ASD. Previously, they were recognized as distinct subtypes, including autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome.

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6  1 in 68 children in the United States have been diagnosed with autism.  Children with autism often experience the world around them differently.  Sensory problems (such as hyper- sensitivity or hypo-sensitivity) can cause difficulties in adapting to the environment.  Loud noises, strong smells, bright lights, hot and cold sensations

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8  Stimming  repetitive motions or sounds used to self-sooth during stressful situations. (swaying, fidgeting, spinning, jumping, bouncing, vocalizations, etc.)  Placing hands over ears  Extreme reaction to touch or loud noises  Running and wandering  Unresponsive to verbal commands  Problems with recognizing social cues  Have a hard time expressing needs and wants  Easily overwhelmed

9 Meltdowns: they’re not just tantrums!

10  Often anxious of entering uncontrolled or new environments  Experience worry of “judgment” from others  Worry that their children are a “burden” to others  Embarrassment when their child(ren) acts-out or experiences a meltdown around others  Sometimes feels isolated

11 Why parents of children with autism feel they can/cannot become part of a church or faith community.

12 Ideas and resources on how to become a welcoming community of faith to special-needs families.

13  Parents of children with autism often feel “pitied” or “patronized”  “They’ll be OK” is not reassuring!  Listen – many parents sometimes just need a friendly ear.  Oftentimes help is needed, but parents may be afraid to ask. It’s OK to ask the parent if they need help with something.

14  Publish monthly articles in your newsletter.  Give Sunday School teachers resources on how to handle children with autism and other special needs children.  There are many groups and organizations that provide free training.  Provide autism information brochures or bulletin inserts for members

15  Reach out to families with special needs.  Offer to allow the families to bring their children to the building during quiet times. (during the week)  Be sure to ask if the families have concerns or special requirements.  Special diets, avoiding triggers, using sensory toys, using visual cues (PECS storyboards)  Reassure families that they are always welcome!

16  Be aware of noise from music, organ, choirs, sound systems can overstimulate.  Provide sound-reducing headphone to help with noises  If possible, create a “cry room” or other quiet space that includes a volume-controlled audio feed of worship  Be aware of smells from flowers and candles.  Changes in décor.

17  Crowded spaces: special worship services (Christmas, Easter, large rooms, lobbies, etc.)  Routine: provide a “regular” seat or location for families, if requested.  Routine: changes in worship orders can cause anxiety  Using props (especially noisy!) during children’s moments/worships.

18 The best tool a parent of children with autism can have is preparation: A simple heads-up on changes in worship, decorations, or the use of louder or unusual sounds can make the world of difference in how children with autism react to certain situation and stimuli.

19  Provide basic sensory toys in the nursery or education areas  stress balls, weighted lap pads, various textures  Be aware of extreme over stimulating areas of the church  sights, sounds, smells, crowds, etc.  Provide a space for parents to take their children if they need a “sensory break.”  a simple, quiet room is best for this!

20  This prevents many parents of children with autism from attending church regularly.  Do a “safety audit” – make sure basic child safety guidelines are being observed  Keep outside doors closed – especially those leading to parking lots or streets.  An adult needs to be with autistic children at all times – unless otherwise specified by a parent.

21  Routine is key!  Give prompts (“5 minutes left!” “2 minutes until it’s time to put away the craft.”)  Visual timers are also a great way to keep children with autism on-task.  Ask parents for routines and methods used at home or school.  Have “breaks” or “calm-down” space available.

22  Some children with autism may need one-to- one assistance.  Many organizations have programs available to train volunteers, Sunday School teachers, and staff on how to manage and assist a child with autism.  Always include children with autism in regular class activities, when possible.  Provide a “reserved” seat for children with autism to help encourage routine.

23 Again, the best tool a parent of children with autism can have is preparation: A simple heads-up on changes in Sunday school routine, redecorated or refurnished rooms, new room assignments, and new curriculum can make a big difference in how a child with autism reacts to new situations.

24  Quiet spaces, simple, comfortable  No bright colors or patterns or murals  Controllable lighting: dimmers, soft  Provide sensory toys and ways parents can help calm children that are overstimulated  tunnels, bean bags, rocking chairs, manipulative objects, swing, lap pad, weighted blankets  Provide a volume-controlled audio feed from the worship so parents don’t feel “left out” of the experience.

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26  Autism Society of Indiana “Allies” are a great resource on education and how to start the process of your congregation becoming special-needs friendly.  Easter Seals Crossroads Respite: giving caretakers breaks. “Parent's Day Out”  Autism Speaks General information and national/local advocacy as well as information for faith-based organizations.  Local Autism Support Groups

27 facebook.com/lifeslittlepuzzle twitter.com/lifeslittlepuzl

28 If you would like a copy of this presentation and the resources referenced in today’s session, please leave us your and we will be happy to send you more information.


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